But I’m asking today. And despite the fact that I’m fully willing to tie Riley up to ensure that she stays—to get my way—this feels strangely real.
I can’t hold back the grin or the stiffening of my cock at the mental image of Miss Riley Tremaine, tied to my bed, her pale skin luminous against the sheets.
Tomorrow night, I’ll have everything I want—the company in my hands, and Riley underneath me in my bed. Emilia even went to the trouble of putting the money in Riley’s account, and a few well placed calls this afternoon have ensured that it will stay there... and I’ll let the girl keep the bonus, for what my stepsister tried to do.
It’s the most successful business transaction I’ve ever lined up. Why, then do I care so much what Riley will think when I put my mother’s ring on her finger? Why am I even so set on doing just that?
Scowling, I stride out to my balcony, look out over the city. It’s midday. I’ve arranged for a romantic dinner to be set out here later today, complete with candles and roses. After Riley is sated with food and wine, I’ll give her the ring. To my way of thinking, just because this is business, doesn’t mean it can’t be pleasurable for us both.
Just because she’ll be my wife for only a month, doesn’t mean I can’t do my best to counteract the idea of marriage that was planted in my head by my father and how he treated my mother.
I can’t wait that long. We will still have the dinner... and maybe I can seduce her into my bed a night early... but I want my ring on her finger now.
And what I want, I get.
“Get a hold of yourself, man.” I sneer with disgust, all directed at myself. Real men don’t have nerves—my father drilled that into my head long ago. And I hadn’t thought I had any left.
I won’t deal with this sensation a moment longer. It’s appalling.
Digging my cell from my pocket, I dial the maid’s line. “Escort Miss Tremaine to my room.”
The woman—Alberta? Annalisa?—hums with displeasure.
“Signorina Tremaine, she has not returned yet.”
I am stunned into silence for a full moment. “What do you mean, she has not returned? Where did she go?”
The maid continues in my ear, but movement from below catches my eye. The sleek black town car that I use when Franco drives me places appears from between the thick olive and lemon trees that shield the house from view at the front gate. I didn’t give Franco any orders...
But I did tell Riley to make herself at home.
For the briefest of seconds I second guess my decision... what if the police had it right? What if she was ready to try to take me for every penny? It wouldn’t be the first time or, I’m sure the last.
But my mind is already rejecting the notion as the car slides to a stop in front of the fountain that graces the front courtyard. I watch Franco exit the driver’s side, but before he can make it around the car, Riley shoves out of the back.
Shading her eyes from the sun, she looks up at the house. Like magnets, our eyes meet, and I know that my worries are not possible.
She is in need of money, yes. But I have known many women.
And this American art student, with her cheap clothing and no bullshit attitude, is different from all the rest. No woman I’ve ever known would have taken a knife for me, not even my own stepsister.
Yes, this straightforward little American wouldn’t hesitate to stand up for what she thinks is right. And now I know where she went.
Pushing away from the terrace, I stalk out of my room, down the stairs, shouting her name. I find her in the kitchen, Alberta/ Annalisa dabbing at her chin with a cloth, the smell of antiseptic heavy in the air.
“What were you thinking?” The maid moves aside at one look from me, and I close in, catch Riley’s chin in my hand. The cut isn’t big, but the fact that it’s there at all infuriates me. “Emilia tries to get you sent to prison, so you confront the dragon in her den?”
Riley studies me with a furrowed brow. “Your stepsister wants to marry you.”
I wince, thinking of the night before, of how Emilia offered herself to me so blatantly. “She doesn’t want me, she just doesn’t want to lose Benenati Enterprises.”
There is a sharp intake of breath from the maid; a narrow eyed look from me sends her scurrying from the kitchen. Inwardly I roll my eyes—this news will work its way through the staff within the hour, if it hasn’t already.
Riley snorts, a hugely inelegant sound which is nevertheless adorable I her. I tilt my head in question. “And why is that so amusing?”
She arches an eyebrow in return. “I wouldn’t be so sure of that.”
Unease trickles through my gut. “What do you mean?”
She simply purses her lips and shakes her head, then continues on as though I haven’t asked anything.
“You believe that I didn’t steal from you.” Her words are matter of fact. “Even though I very well could have.”
At this I grin. “Surely no bride of mine would behave in such a fashion, cara mia. Not when I’ve offered to care for your every... need.”
Rather than responding to the flirtation with a breathy sigh, Riley rolls her eyes. “I’ve decided that I won’t fight marrying you.”
I’m slightly taken back by her tone. Yes, this is a business arrangement, but... still.
“Since Emilia put you in danger, you no longer have a choice.” Tracing a finger over the small cut on her face, I narrow my eyes in warning.
And she rolls her eyes again.
“Whatever makes you happy.” She smiles up at me wickedly, and my fingers tighten on her skin.
This woman is clear mountain air in the stale castle of my life. I want her. Now. But when I lean in to kiss her, she pulls away.
“I’m doing this for you.”
Wait... what? Her expression tells me she’s deadly serious. “When I went to see Emilia, I fully intended to just walk away. But that woman... I’m sorry, I know she’s your sister. But she’s fucking nuts. And it’s small of me, but I’m happy to help you out if it means thwarting her.”
“Stepsister,” I correct automatically. I’m not sure what to make of Riley’s pronouncement.
No one has ever wanted to... protect me... before.
It’s rather strange. And I’m not sure I entirely believe it.
“That’s the only reason, hmm?” Testing her, I let my fingers stroke down from her chin to her neck, then further to her shoulder, bared in the loose T-shirt. Bending, I press a kiss there, and savor her sharp intake of breath.